The one-man band

Updated: Jul 06, 2019, 06:44 IST | Karishma Kuenzang | Mumbai

Multi-instrumentalist Sarthak Mudgal, on a holiday from his life as musician in New York, discusses pioneering a unique way of playing percussive guitar

Sarthak Mudgal and Heather will perform in the city they met for the first time tonight
Sarthak Mudgal and Heather will perform in the city they met for the first time tonight

During the western music (group) competition at a North Delhi college almost a decade ago, a guitarist went on stage to accompany the choir. But when he started playing, the percussive rhythm he provided with the guitar, accompanied by a secondary beat he devised by tying a ghungroo around one ankle, captured the attention of the entire audience. That, in 2011, was the first time Sarthak Mudgal unleashed his raw affinity for percussions on stage. It was also the first time I experienced deafening silence resulting out of awe.

Today, a music scholarship, a world tour and an album later, Mudgal is teaching rhythm and his unique approach to instruments at a music school and NGO called Leap in New York, and collaborating with multiple outfits catering to different genres in NYC. But tonight, he's making the best of his time in India (till August) to collaborate with more musicians, and performing a mix of covers and jazz-centric originals in a duo set, called Mudrews with Heather in Lower Parel. Composed by Heather, the rhythm section has been worked out by Mudgal. The songs talk about their personal experiences and the city the two have lived in — Delhi. "A song about Mumbai is in the pipeline," says the 28-year-old, who hopes to finish and perform the song about the city where the two first met at a gig at Mumbai's iconic now-shuttered Blue Frog in 2015.

Mudgal provides melody and a percussive rhythm with the guitar, accompanied by a secondary beat devised by tying a ghungroo

The classical tabla student, who started learning at the age of three, would have remained so had it not been for sheer accident, says Mudgal. "I was a tabla player for the college music society, but the instrument got destroyed in the monsoon. The choir needed a musician to keep the beat. Someone suggested I give the choir the beat with a guitar that had been around," Mudgal recalls. He dusted off the cobwebs and picked up a few chords on day one itself. The rest is history. There was no stopping him as he picked up the ghungroo, which can be counted as one of the 13 instruments he now plays including the drums, piano, conga didgeridoo, bongo and marimba. "I try to see the different polyrhythms — following multiple rhythms at the same time — on different instruments as one unit, and then work on making it sound like one," he tells us about his unique ability to play multiple instruments at once.

His education in Berklee College of Music, where he went after he won the AR Rahman scholarship — a hundred cent scholarship for one Indian student — in 2016, was the boost that paved the path for a musical a career. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I feared my Indian classical background and zero western music knowledge would be a setback. But I treated the audition like I treat any other performance — as a conversation with my guitar, Santiago," he reveals.

Place an Indian classical trained musician in a western classical session and you get somebody who understands the term fusion, a stark contrast to the bastardised meaning of it in India today. "Fusion is not putting a Sufi vocalist and drums together. It has to have more flavour. You can't just say things in Hindi and English and say it's fusion. You need more local flavours, like putting in some Malayalam, and getting the accent and slang right," he explains.

So, Delhi to New York, does he feel like he's made it? "As a kid I wanted to live in New York and now I am. I'm doing what I love, recently released my EP Urge and will soon be collaborating with Carnatic vocalist Chandana Balakalyan. I feel blessed," Mudgal concludes.

On July 7, 7 pm onwards
At 603 Coworking Place, Marathon Innova Corporate Centre, 101, C Wing, Lower Parel.
Call 9136036603
Log on to
Cost Rs 400

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